FOR FREE PEOPLE

FOR FREE PEOPLE

Football fans watch a live broadcast of the World Cup between England and USA in London, England. (Leon Neal via Getty Images)

TGIF: Protest Edition

A week of opposition to the CCP, eating bugs, the University of California, railroad workers, Shopify, and euphoria. Plus: does Elon Musk already have the brain chip?

Welcome back to TGIF. Hold on to your Yeezys.

This week we ran a great essay from Luke Burgis on why human beings all seem to want the same things. If you’re confused about why everyone on your Zoom meetings lists their pronouns—or why everyone binged Tiger King at the same time—read it. Not since Tiananmen Square have there been such brazen protests against the CCP. Simon Leplâtre is on the ground in Shanghai witnessing it all and reporting on it for us. And on the podcast, Bari sat down with Israel’s incoming Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to talk about his political reincarnations, the future of Israel and—what else?—Trump’s dinner with Kanye.

And now, to the news you may have intentionally missed this week:

→ Trump, Milo, Kanye, Fuentes: A rough collection of names for a rough item. Last week, our former President beclowned himself by hosting Kanye West and the white supremacist Nick Fuentes at Mar-a-Lago for dinner. He claimed not to know who Fuentes was. 

Add to this sick brew one Milo Yiannopoulous. Once a firebrand gay conservative, Milo has rebranded as a Christian nationalist selling Christian paraphernalia. Now he’s running Kanye West’s 2024 presidential campaign and gleefully joining in with the antisemitism, claiming Trump will lose because he has been “continuing to suck the boots of Jewish powers that be who hate Jesus Christ, hate our country, and see us as disposable cattle according to their ‘holy’ book.” It’s subtle, sure, but if you read it closely you pick up on the antisemitism. 

On Thursday, Kanye West and Nick Fuentes went on Infowars. I think it’s worthwhile to see the rhetoric for yourself. You know things have gone off the rails when Alex Jones is the most sane person on a panel. 

 

→ I guess I’m stuck in this marriage now: Congress this week officially passed The Respect for Marriage Act, bringing federal protection to same-sex marriages. Twelve Republican Senators voted in favor of it, a remarkable culture shift in a short amount of time. Let’s all thank Clarence Thomas, since it was Thomas who nicely reminded Americans that gay marriage stood on flimsy legal grounds, just like Roe, in his concurring opinion in Dobbs. Gay bars should put Clarence Thomas portraits up. There should be a Clarence Thomas pride float. He’ll love it. 

The marriage decision coincides eerily with me feeling extremely straight married, i.e.: holding a screaming three-month old baby and saying no, I cooked, I won’t do the dishes. 

→ The U.S. economy is growing well: It grew 2.9% this past quarter, faster than expected. The Federal Reserve’s rate hikes impacted the housing market (I see a lot of places in my neighborhood sitting for months now on Zillow during my nightly Zill scrolls). But the rest of the economy is humming along. 

→ China’s obsession with Zero-Covid: Chinese authorities have taken a brutal stance on Covid: They have welded people into their own apartments and locked building exit doors. Last week, an apartment fire killed 10 in China’s Xinjiang province, and many say the dead were locked in their building and fire trucks were slowed by road blocks that were the result of the draconian Covid rules. The result has been unprecedented protests across the country. In Beijing, people chanted “no to Covid tests, yes to freedom.” Watch scenes here and here

Some on the American left were quick to defend the CCP. Being welded into your apartment, having all the exits locked in a fire, these are just the price of safety. One particularly wild example: When the Washington Post ran a news story about the CCP’s flawed Zero-Covid response, the paper’s most famous reporter, Taylor Lorenz, slammed her employer’s phrasing and defended the CCP. “Choosing not to kill off millions of vulnerable people (as the US is doing) isn’t a ‘critical flaw,’” Lorenz wrote. 

I do have good news for America’s Pandemic Forever advocates: You’ve won. Yes, a few people still go to the movies, and you can always tweet about how selfish and evil they are. But take a look at this chart . . .

→ Americans’ staggering loneliness: We were already spending more and more time alone each year. Then Covid hit, and our isolation grew much deeper. Our social lives haven’t bounced back.  

The Pandemic Forever community sees this chart and thinks: Still too many hours with other people. 

Speaking of the Washington Post . . . 

→ Jeff Bezos vs. Elon Musk: First, America’s richest men—Bezos and Musk—fought over who could be the more hardcore guy with rockets. Now they are fighting over who will control the public conversation. Musk obviously uses his Twitter feed, but Bezos is more subtle: He uses the Washington Post. 

Here is the Post’s Editorial Board on Nov 28: “Elon Musk is harming free expression on Twitter, not protecting it.” That very same day, another real piece in the Washington Post: “Elon Musk and the hardcore cult of Diet Coke.” The reporter cites Diet Coke’s “unsavory acolytes, including former president Donald Trump and Harvey Weinstein.” Elon Musk likes Diet Coke, just like Donald Trump and Harvey Weinstein. Coincidence? 

The Biden White House, which allows the CCP to mainline propaganda to America’s teens via TikTok, is also up in arms about Twitter. Asked about it, White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre warned this week: "We’re all keeping a close eye on this.” On Stephen Colbert this week, one guest, a former CNN reporter, said of social media broadly: “Social media has . . . come in, and used free speech to stifle free speech.”

To be fair, sometimes, I use free speech to stifle free speech. Some may call it interrupting. I call it my human rights.  

→ Elon Musk, having it all: On Wednesday night, he unveiled a wireless brain chip that promises to make the blind see and give a person with a severed spinal cord “full-body functionality.” On Thursday he was in Nevada unveiling Tesla’s first heavy-duty Semi truck. Meanwhile, he’s doing truly remarkable trolling on Twitter, day in and day out.

→ Layoffs at CNN, hiring freeze at NPR: Chris Licht continues to clean house at CNN, cutting deeper into the network’s staff with more layoffs. NPR, meanwhile, has to cut at least $10 million in spending. Too bad they didn’t get that sweet Sam Bankman-Fried dough while it lasted.

→ Bob Iger returns to Disney: Disney movies have always taught values to kids (mostly that to be a hero, one of your parents has to be dead), so it’s silly to pretend the company only recently got political. But it does feel like they’ve spent more energy in the last year on culture war battles and duking it out with Gov. Ron DeSantis than on making good movies. “Strange World” and “Lightyear” were both flops. And so Disney’s old CEO is out. And returning to the helm is Bob Iger, pulled out of retirement. Chris Rufo, the conservative strategist and investigator, got his hands on Iger’s first town hall with Disney employees. “To the extent that I can work to kind of quiet things down, I’m going to do that,” Iger says.  

Good luck, Mr. Iger. And if all you manage to quiet is toddlers belting Moana in public it will have been enough. 

→ SBF media tour: Sam Bankman-Fried, the disgraced crypto mogul and Democratic mega-donor, continues his ill-advised press tour. He had a hour-plus long chat with Andrew Ross Sorkin (very much worth watching). He talked for a while with Jen Wieczner at New York magazine. He sat with Good Morning America’s George Stephanopoulos

The mainstream media stories about SBF continue to take him, more or less, at his word. He was in over his head, but his intentions were so good, is still the line. The only group who seems to see a scammer as a scammer is CoinDesk, the crypto-specific news site. “FTX’s collapse was a crime, not an accident,” writes columnist David Z. Morris with refreshing clarity. “Sam Bankman-Fried is a con man and fraudster of historic proportions.”

As readers know, I’m obsessed with the involvement of his two Stanford Law School professor parents, one of whom doesn’t believe in free will or personal responsibility. Anything new on them this week? Of course! Andrew Ross Sorkin asked Bankman-Fried about some of the company’s reported real estate buys in the Bahamas, including what sure looks like a vacation home for the young mogul’s parents. Here’s how Bankman-Fried responded:

“I don’t know the details of that house for my parents. I know it was not intended to be their long-term property. It was intended to be the company’s property. I don’t know how that was papered in, and I think that’s where it was and will end up. I think they may have stayed there while working with the company sometime over the last year.”

I don’t know how that was papered in. Same thing happens over here when I put overpriced dog treats on the company card and the bookkeeper asks about it.

→ Stop trying to make me eat insects: Every single week there is a story from the mainstream press trying to convince me that I need to eat insects. This is a Davos-set obsession. The World Economic Forum has published literally hundreds of pieces like “5 Reasons Why Eating Insects Could Reduce Climate Change.” Steak, chicken, fish are all special treats that are bad for the environment, you see. And like private jets, these should be reserved only for Davos attendees, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, and Taylor Swift. For the good of the world, you and I should be eased into a bug-based diet. Last weekend’s installment comes from the Washington Post’s health section: “Salted ants. Ground crickets. Why you should try edible insects.” No. 

→ A chart that says everything about the murder rate: Among Black Americans, the firearm homicide rate is back to 1990s levels. This data comes from a new paper in JAMA, summarized well in the WSJ

Getting the crime wave under control actually is a social justice issue. 

→ Grad students are the new auto workers: The largest strike of 2022 is teaching assistants, postdocs, and researchers in the University of California system. They want better pay and also child-care benefits. But universities minted way too many PhD students. The competition for jobs is too fierce. And what’s worse: Universities can pay in prestige and jelly beans because some PhD in queer readings of early modern English literature whose father runs Exxon will gladly take the gig. 

The real strike would be to stop getting PhDs altogether. One funny note: These teaching assistants are represented by the United Auto Workers union. So little Kitty and Liam III are marching around the university holding up UAW placards. It’s odd. Jokes aside, the grad student system definitely is unfair and bad! TGIF stands with Kitty. 

→ Ew, railroad workers: Biden this week called for Congress to mandate a contract and prevent a railroad worker’s strike. The workers want to be able to miss work for routine medical appointments; they don’t have guaranteed paid sick days. It’s the first time since 1990 that Congress has wielded the Constitution’s commerce clause to intervene. The rail workers are not happy. Interestingly, Marco Rubio has come out in support of the railroad workers: “Our nation’s economic priorities have swung too far toward efficiency. As a result, we’ve become less resilient. We’ve seen that with supply chains, and we’re seeing it now with rail workers.”

→ New York City to force the mentally ill into custody: Mayor Eric Adams this week announced the city will begin taking mentally ill people who are unable to keep themselves or others safe into involuntary custody for the purpose of a psychiatric evaluation (new policy here). As fentanyl continues to tear across America, it’s common to see sick people in drug-induced psychosis cruising along the sidewalk. There’s no great answer about what to do, but so far the winning perspective has been: let ‘er rip. The anti-intervention side argues that cities should let people live on the sidewalk and also should provide people safe places for drugs and also (yes) drugs! 

They have a new phrase to describe their opposition: “Anti-euphoria activists.” 

For a sense of the movement that has successfully kept drug addicts living on sidewalks, read this incredible document from the National Safer Supply Community of Practice. The group argues that trying to get people off drugs is actually judgey and lame. 

An excerpt: “Anti-drug and anti-euphoria perspectives place moral judgment on substance use. Anti-euphoria sees the pursuit of euphoria (feeling ‘high’, intense pleasure, and/or well-being) or altered consciousness through mind- or mood-altering drugs as inherently wrong, and an insufficient or indefensible reason to use drugs.” 

(Thank you to Leighton Woodhouse for finding this.)

In San Francisco this week, a 10-month-old was crawling around in a nice city park when he stopped breathing. Paramedics couldn’t figure out what was going on so ended up administering Narcan, an overdose-reversing drug, which revived the toddler within seconds, according to records his father shared with the SF Chronicle. San Francisco officials confirmed that the baby was exposed to fentanyl.

→ Shopify refuses to be bullied: The Ottawa-based e-commerce platform won’t kick off Libs of TikTok. The CBC has a big piece about the activists who want the conservative satirist kicked off the shopping platform, where she sells mugs and t-shirts. Shopify is not caving. Good on them. 

CEO Tobi Lutke wrote: “Shopify has a published acceptable use policy and a principled process to apply it. Pressure groups on all sides try to influence it sometimes and CBC needs to see through that not amplify bad faith narrative.”

→ Sperm counts continue to fall: Sperm counts in men around the world are falling, according to new Israeli-led research. There are a lot of theories for the cause of this. The one I’ve found most compelling: obesity and endocrine-disrupting plastics. In the coming years, I won’t be surprised to find a cottage industry of life coaches, nutritionists, snake oil salesmen, essential oil salesmen and healers all focused on getting more swimmers swimming.

→ British Royals, still pretty racist: You would think the British Royals would be a little humble at this point. With their empire fallen and their soft economy and their food situation (mushy peas and a cucumber sandwich, anyone?), you’d think they might at least be a little warmer now to make up for it. Goodness no! Just as the Prince and Princess of Wales arrive in America this week for what was supposed to be a triumphant tour of the colony, a story comes out about Will’s godmother accosting some sweet nonprofit founder about her heritage. It’s worth reading through for a reminder of what an old nut is like. 

Now, I love the young royals, from the Duke and Duchess of Montecito to the Prince and Princess of cucumber sandwich. Still, I couldn’t help but smile about how at a Celtics game, the royal couple were greeted with chants of U.S.A., U.S.A! God Bless America. 

→ Congratulations to the Good Morning America co-hosts: Speaking of sex (were we?), it looks like two hosts of GMA have fallen in love. There is so, so much photographic evidence. There’s hundreds of photos. There’s them leaving an Irish pub in Times Square, and a video of a hand casually tapping a tush during a woodsy getaway. Someone must have hired a private detective, which adds to the intrigue. TGIF loves marriage. But TGIF also loves chaos. 

→ World Cup news. America is set to play the Netherlands Saturday. Thank you for coming to our Sports Section.

And with that, my friends, I bid you TGIF. See you in the comments.

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